Steven Spielberg discusses ‘Minority Report’ and Philip K Dick influences

This is from the 2002 Steven Spielberg with WIRED magazine titled Spielberg in the Twilight Zone.

Minority Report posterWIRED: So what drew you to “The Minority Report”?

SPIELBERG: The thing about Philip K. Dick is that he’s a concept illustrator. In “The Minority Report” he’s got a very strong idea – that future murders can be preempted based on the psychic information from precognitives, or “precogs,” as he calls them. And the head of Precrime, played by Tom Cruise, who brought the book and original script to me, is himself accused of a murder that’s going to happen in 36 hours. He has to go on the run from all the men and women he’s trained to catch people just like him. At its core the movie is a whodunit. It’s actually a whodunit-to-me. I responded immediately to that. And then, I responded to the myriad possibilities of creating a future that is not too distant, yet with the kind of technologies we can only dream about but wish we had now.

How far ahead did you set it?

It’s 2054. When we started brainstorming we invited some of the far-reaching thinkers in the areas of science and medicine, technology, transportation, and the environment to imagine what the near future would bring. We had a three-day think tank at the Shutters Hotel [in Santa Monica, California]. Usually you see these guys on Nightline talking to Ted Koppel. We had all of them in one room talking to each other. Most of the software in the movie is based on their suggestions of what it will be like in 50 years.

What struck you about their ideas?

One of the things that excited me the most, though it was off the subject of Minority Report, was the transportation system. Certainly, as a country dependent on Arab oil, we’re desperate for alternative forms of energy. How do you most efficiently transport people from the workplace to home? Home to school? Home to shopping? And what kind of cities would be in our future? Based on ideas from this group, we devised a system where all the vehicles are crawling up and down the sides of buildings. It was like creating a SimCity.

What’s the first P.K. Dick story you read?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

You said about Taken, your upcoming series for the Sci Fi Channel, that it would speak to the science fiction fans as well as the general public. Can you bridge that gap?

There are the aficionados who hold up the book and say it’s heresy to change any element of a science fiction book, whether it’s Childhood’s End or Fahrenheit 451 or The War of the Worlds – “You change a hair on that beautiful creature’s head and you’ve lost me.” That sci-fi fanatic I’ll never be able to win over, but I’ll win over the sci-fi fans who want to have a good story told to them – even if it doesn’t sound like the book they read 20 years ago. They never have to say it’s better than the book. If they can at least say “I was really engaged,” then I feel I’ve done my job well.

Dick’s stories have inspired Screamers, Total Recall, and Blade Runner, arguably the ultimate sci-fi movie. Are you concerned about the inevitable comparisons to Blade Runner?

Minority Report is a different film. There’s darkness to it. There’s personal tragedy as well. But I think it’s a little more accessible. I thought Ridley [Scott, director of Blade Runner] painted a very bleak but brilliant vision of life on earth in a few years. It’s kind of acid rain and sushi. In fact, it’s coming true faster than most science fiction films come true. Blade Runner is almost upon us. It was ultranoir.

There’s a great tension between possibility and skepticism in science. Yet skepticism is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of you.

Not a lot of skepticism has gotten into my work. Certainly in the last few films – Amistad, Schindler’s List, and Private Ryan, and A.I. and Minority Report – there’s been a, well, I’m not sure I’d call it skepticism, but a being unafraid of the dark truth, the difficult realities. I feel as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more courageous.

In 1999, you said that Minority Report would be the most cynical film you’d ever made.

I was wrong. It changed. Because, well, it’s not cynical to want to believe that there could be a miracle – that they could stop people from killing in the future. So in a sense, it went from being a cynical story to being a movie about wishful thinking.

What happens to the people convicted of premurder?

They’re detained. We don’t say how long, but we show that they are kept in a comatose condition in a large area called the Hall of Containment. It looks like Arlington Cemetery because there are these things like headstones with the names of all those interred. There are six bodies interred in each tube and the tubes rise vertically from the ground, and they are constantly monitored and fed intravenously. They are not conscious, although they do exist in a dream state. So they may dream for 25 years, or however long their sentence goes. I would like to think that after 25 years they are released with no memory of who they are or what they did.

Or what they might have done?

Or what they might do. The cynical thing would be to believe that somebody with homicidal tendencies can never be rehabilitated. I don’t believe that. I think they can be rehabilitated. I just didn’t go there because the politics of that debate were not part of the storytelling.

Check out the full interview HERE

Steven Spielberg Wired magazine cover

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